St. Joe’s Highlights Importance of Early Detection During Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Amy Kirby, MD, FACS

In recognition and celebration of Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, Amy Kirby MD, FACS, recently participated in a Q&A highlighting the importance of education and the early detection of breast cancer.  Dr. Kirby is a board-certified general surgeon specializing in breast surgery and serves as medical director of the Breast Program at St. Joseph Mercy Oakland hospital.

1. How many people are diagnosed with breast cancer each year?

According to the latest cancer research, there are more than 270,000 new breast cancer diagnoses annually in the United States.  In 2019, it is estimated that more than 42,000 people died as a result of their diagnosis.  Closer to home, 9,310 new cases of breast cancer occurred in Michigan in 2019 and more than 1,400 deaths.

2. Does breast cancer only impact women or is it something men need to be concerned with too?

I do treat men for breast cancer, however, by and large the vast majority of my patients are women.  The lifetime risk of breast cancer for men is 1 in 833, versus 1 in 8 for women.  To put this in perspective, men account for only 1% of newly diagnosed breast cancers each year.

3. When and how should women self-examine for breast cancer?

There are varying opinions within the medical community as it relates to the efficacy of self-exams for breast cancer, however, I strongly believe that women should do a monthly self-exam. 

I have had many patients who have identified cancers through self-exam.  Women know their bodies and should notify their physician if they suspect something doesn’t feel right.

4. At what age should women begin screening for breast cancer?  What should they do if they have a family history of breast cancer?

Women at average risk for breast cancer should begin annual mammograms at age 40.  Women with a family history of breast cancer should begin 10 years earlier than the age when their family member was first diagnosed or at age 40, whichever comes first. 

For example, if a woman’s mother had breast cancer at age 45, the daughter would start her annual mammograms at age 35.  If the mother had breast cancer at 55, her daughter would start mammography at age 40. 

Additionally, women who are considered at high risk (a lifetime risk of over 20%) should have a breast MRI performed in addition to annual mammograms.

5. Are there support groups or other resources for people currently fighting breast cancer?

As is the case at many Saint Joseph Mercy Health System hospitals, St. Joseph Mercy Oakland offers a support group led by breast cancer nurse navigators.  Our navigators are trusted partners that help patients along their care journey.  From diagnosis, through treatment and into recovery, our navigators are available to provide guidance and support.  Our cancer resource center offers additional supportive services for patients and their families.

6. Is there any other information you think is important for people to know about breast cancer?

As women, I know we have busy lives and that it may seem overwhelming at times.  The best advice I can give is to get your annual mammogram and to attend wellness visits with your primary care physician.  Breast cancer treatment is usually very successful, but the most important factor is its early detection. 

We have made remarkable advancements in the treatment of breast cancer.  Women now have access to personalized care plans depending on their particular cancer’s features.

In addition to screenings, Michigan residents should also know that our cancer trials remain open and available amid the COVID-19 pandemic to any patient that meets trial criteria.  I highly encourage all those battling cancer to speak with your doctor and ask if you qualify.

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